So here’s the post I meant to write the other night but didn’t. Except even in thinking about how to start trying to explain to you the awesomeness that is Joshua, I realize that one of the first things I feel compelled to tell you about are his diagnoses. And then I realize that I haven’t talked much about them here at all, which is why I think I need to incorporate them, but I’m glad I haven’t defined him that way to you. That means that I don’t define him that way… except when I need to. Which was what spurred my almost-rant about my struggles with his school counselor last week.
I sure do get ahead of myself and talk all around, don’t I? This is what it’s like inside my brain, folks. If I don’t put the words down in some kind of order, they just stay in constant motion, sometimes forming complete trains of thought but more often just rattling around like a bunch of bumper cars at an amusement park.
So, as of right now, Joshua’s diagnoses are ADHD, with which most people seem to be at least marginally familiar these days, and also PDD-NOS: Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My layperson’s understanding of this diagnosis is that it’s most often used for young children who exhibit signs of autism and/or Asperger’s syndrome, but who either do not categorically fit one or the other, or who have not yet reached an age where a psychologist feels comfortable assigning a more specific diagnosis on the spectrum. As his last evaluation was over five years ago, I recently brought him to a local professional for a full neuropsych eval and will meet with her in the next couple of weeks to hear her report out on the results of the testing she conducted along with reports his teachers and I completed to assist with the assessment.
The ways Josh’s ASD and ADHD impact his behavior are sometimes quite apparent, and other times – at least to me – practically non-existent. He’s hard to understand for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with him because he speaks really quickly and sometimes drops words, but hell, I do that sometimes, too. He struggles with the “th” sound and says “f” instead, which is, in all honesty, a bit worrisome for me at his age, because while I know adults with lisps, I don’t know any with an impediment of that nature. I’m hopeful that it can be corrected through continued speech therapy, but it’s not life-threatening, and it doesn’t seem to bother him much right now. If and when it does, he’ll do something about it if he can, and if he can’t, he’ll work with it like we all work with our stuff.
Aside from his speech, he has involuntary vocal tics, though he’s abandoned the one he had for the first almost-year he lived with me and has replaced it (subconsciously) with a new one that is somewhat less potentially alienating to peers. I feel bad for being grateful for that, but I gotta admit, the fewer things that set him apart from the other kids, the less I worry about him.
He is weird about food. He’ll go on a bender and want the same thing for dinner for four weeks straight, and won’t eat any vegetables besides raw carrots and cucumbers. I’ve snuck shredded zucchini into pasta sauce and broccoli into cheese sauce and he’s scarfed them along with whatever I put them on, but don’t tell him that.
He’s a little clumsy and his dexterity varies wildly from task to task – his handwriting is abysmal, but he’s a damned fast typist. He struggles with knowing the right amount of pressure to use: he’ll overcompensate and knock something over instead of just picking it up, but doesn’t press hard enough with a sponge to wash a plate unless I use hand-over-hand guidance. Though this may just be his way to avoid dish duty – he’s self-admittedly lazy as hell.
He latches onto words and phrases for no apparent reason. I can’t remember one once the next has taken over, but the one that has stuck around since at least late August is “taco.” I have no idea why. HE has no idea why. But it’s his thing. I ask him why his plate is still on the table in the living room instead of in the kitchen sink. “Taco?” I tell him I couldn’t hear what he just said. “Taco!” I ask what movie he’s just put in for us to watch. “Taco.” I’ve started replying with various foods on a theme: Burrito. Quesadilla. Gordita. Taquito. It cracks him up, which cracks me up.
He obsesses over video games, musicians, and movies: he will play Call Of Duty for twelve straight hours if permitted, hunger and weariness and calls of nature be damned. He’ll put a single song on repeat until I lose my mind and make him change it up. He’ll watch the same film back to back to back. His memory for facts around his areas of interest is vast – he can tell you the production companies, ratings, and even voice actors for every video game he loves, years games and movies and albums came out, samples and featured artists on tracks he loves, and more – it’s astounding, really. His ability to be redirected away from his hyper-focus on these things has increased substantially since he’s been in an environment where he isn’t permitted to spend unlimited time on his preferred activities; he’s even gotten into a couple of books I’ve shared with him (print and audio) and is branching out in his food selection. We don’t have meltdowns if a video game won’t load, and he barely whined at all when I called XBox customer support and told him his busted console would cost too much to repair, and that I wasn’t going to replace it anytime soon. This, folks, was a true test.
Joshua has introduced me to The IT Crowd. Hot Fuzz. Super Mario Bros Wii. The Lonely Island. He’s a master of comedic timing and inflection, and can produce a movie quote for damned near every occasion. His negotiation skills when he really wants something rival those of any politician – dirty, slippery, and occasionally compelling. He laughs more than anyone I’ve ever known, and it’s contagious – since birth, this kid has just been happy happy happy, and seeing him flash his signature grin and a thumbs-up when he’s done something typically obnoxious and 14-year-old-boy-ish gets through my irritation every time.
We definitely have our rough moments. Times when I have to be the adult authority figure, and he the rebellious teen. Times when I have to say the same thing every day for two weeks and I am quite literally tearing at my hair. We have moments when one or the other or both of us has to walk away and take deep breaths before we come back to talk again. But we do. We apologize, we revisit, we conclude, and then we give each other a Gibbs-slap and he farts at me and I roll my eyes and we’re back to good.
Life with Joshua is full of both painfully routine and absurdly unpredictable. Moments in which I wonder, “Why the hell did I think I was cut out for this?” and moments in which I think, “What would I do without him?” We’re both learning. We’re both growing. And we have kind of a lot of fun while we’re at it.